views updated


VEDĀNTA . The word vedānta literally means "end [anta ] of the Veda," that is to say, the concluding part of the apaurueya, or revealed Vedic literature, which is traditionally believed to comprise the Sahitās, the Brāhmaas, the Ārayakas, and the Upaniads. Vedānta thus primarily denotes the Upaniads and their teachings. Metaphorically, Vedānta is also understood to represent the consummation or culmination (anta ) of the entire Vedic speculation, or indeed of all knowledge (veda ). The Hindu philosophical tradition, however, generally recognizes three foundations (prasthāna s, literally, "points of departure") of Vedānta, namely, the Upaniads, the Bhagavadgītā, and the Brahma Sūtra. Of these three, the Bhagavadgītā, which primarily deals with the problems of social ethics, and which attempts a kind of religio-philosophical synthesis, can hardly be characterized as a strictly Vedantic treatise. Historically, one may speak of three periods of Vedāntathe creative period represented by the Upaniads, the period of systematization and harmonization of the Upaniadic teachings represented by the Brahma Sūtra, and the period of exposition, elaboration, and diversification represented by the commentaries on the Brahma Sūtra, the commentaries on those commentaries, and many independent treatises. The traditional grounding of Vedānta is thus consistently emphasized, it being implied that Vedānta is largely an exercise in scriptural exegesis rather than an independent philosophical formulation.


More than two hundred texts call themselves Upaniads, but they include even such recent works as the Christopaniad and the Allopaniad. The Muktikopaniad gives a traditional list of 108 Upaniads, but, even out of these, many texts seem to have been called Upaniads only by courtesy. Usually 13 Upaniads, namely, Iśa, Kena, Kaha, Praśna, Muada, Māūkya, Taittirīya, Aitareya, Chāndogya, Bhadārayaka, Svetāśvatara, Kauītaki, and Maitrāyaī, are regarded as the principal Upaniads (eighth to fourth century bce). They are traditionally connected with one Vedic school (śākhā ) or another, and several of them actually form part of a larger literary complex.

The Upaniads do not, by any means, constitute a systematic philosophical treatise. They rather represent the fearless quest for truth by essentially uninhibited minds. They seek, among other things, to investigate the ultimate reality "from which, verily, these beings are born, by which, when born, they live, and into which, when departing, they enter" (Taittirīya Upaniad 3.1.1), to delve into the mystery of the ātman "by whom one knows all this" but whom one cannot know by the usual means of knowledge (Bhadārayaka Upaniad 4.5.15), and generally to promote "that instruction by which the unheard becomes heard, the unperceived becomes perceived, and the unknown becomes known" (Chāndogya Upaniad 6.1.3). It is true that the Upaniads arose out of a kind of intellectual and social revolt against the closed mechanical sacerdotalism sponsored by the Brāhmaas. But the Upaniadic teachers soon realized that the ultimate reality could not be comprehended through mere logical reasoning, for "words return [from it] along with the mind, not attaining it" (Taittirīya Upaniad 2.9.1). "Not by reasoning is this apprehension attainable," they declared (Kaha Upaniad 1.2.4). It is accordingly seen that the Upaniads present only the results of their speculation without making much ado about the logical processes, if any, which lead to those results. For the Upaniads the true consummation of all knowledge lies in the direct experience of the ultimate reality.

The Upaniads, however, presuppose a certain development of thought. The origin of some of their doctrines can be traced back to the gveda, or in certain cases, even to the pre-Vedic non-Aryan thought complex. It will also be seen that, from the methodological as well as from the conceptual point of view, the Upaniads owe not a little to the Brāhmaas, as a reaction against which they were largely brought into existence. The word upaniad is usually understood in the sense of esoteric teachings imparted by the teacher to his pupils who sit (sad ) near (upa ) him in a closed exclusive group (ni ). But literally the word would rather seem to denote "placing side by side; equivalence, correlation," and then, secondarily, doctrines taught through equivalences or correlations. In a sense, the Upaniads represent an extension of the tendency of the Brāhmaas toward bandhutā, that is, toward perpetually establishing equivalences between entities and powers apparently belonging to different levels and to different spheres. It is, of course, inevitable that there should be no uniformity of method and teaching in such composite and heterogeneous texts as the Upaniads, but there certainly is a definite uniformity of purpose and outlook in them.

The Upaniads clearly betray a trend toward inwardization and spiritualization, which presumably has its origin in their general aversion for the physical body and sensual experience (Maitrī Upaniad 1.3). The Upaniadic teachers have consistently emphasized the view that the essential or real self (ātman ) has to be differentiated from the empirical or embodied self (jīva ). Indeed, true philosophical knowledge consists in not confusing the one for the other. This teaching is very well brought out in the famous parable from the Chāndogya Upaniad (8.712), in which Prajāpati is seen leading Indra progressively on the path of true knowledge and ending with the final instruction that the essential Self is different from and transcends the embodied self in its conditions of wakefulness, dream, and deep sleep. The essential Self is of the nature of pure self-consciousness. It is neither the knower nor the known nor the act of knowing, though this last necessarily presupposes the existence and direct awareness of the essential Self. The essential Self does existit is sat (existence)but not in any particular form; it is pure sat, that is to say, it is of the nature of existence as such. It is also conscious, but not of any particular object, internal or external; it is pure cit (consciousness), that is to say, it is of the nature of consciousness as such.

In another significant analysis of the human personality (Taittirīya Upaniad 2.2.5), the Upaniadic teacher proceeds from the grosser to the subtler forms of the Self, it being implied that each succeeding subtler and more internal form is more real and essential than the preceding one. He there speaks of the physical form (annamāyā ), the vital form (prāamāyā ) which inheres within the physical form, the mental form (manomāyā ) which inheres within the vital form, the form of consciousness (vijñānamāyā ) which inheres within the mental form, and finally concludes by affirming that within the form of consciousness inheres the subtlest and the most internal, and, therefore, the most real and the most essential form, namely, the form of bliss (ānandamāyā ). The essential Self is thus pure existence (sat ), pure consciousness (cit ), and pure bliss (ānanda ).

Side by side with the analysis of the human personality, the Upaniadic thinker has attempted an analysis of the external world as well. The thinker has thereby arrived at the conclusion that at the basis of this gross, manifold, changing phenomenal worldwhich ultimately is a conglomeration of mere names and formsthere lies one single, uniform, eternal, immutable, sentient reality (see, e.g., Chāndogya Upaniad 6.1). The natural and logical next step is to identify the deepest level of the subjective person, namely, the essential Self (ātman ), with the ultimate basis of the objective universe, namely, the cosmic reality (brahman, also called sat ). The world appearance or the relation of the world to brahman are not major concerns in the Upaniads.

The Upaniads have not developed any epistemology. Nor have they enunciated any ethical system as such. They are more or less exclusively concerned with the ideal of moka, or humanity's release from its involvement in the phenomenal world and its realization of the identity of its essential self with the cosmic reality. Even the doctrine of karman has not been systematically elaborated in the early Upaniads. It is regarded as something not to be spoken of openly (Bhadārayaka Upaniad 3.2.13). As for the doctrine of rebirth, its first clear indications are seen in a passage of the Bhadārayaka Upaniad (6.2.1516), where it is mentioned as one of three eschatological alternatives.


For various reasons, the period immediately following the major Upaniads marked a kind of break in the continuity of Brahmanic thought and tradition. But it proved to be only an interregnum. Soon a vigorous and comprehensive cultural movement was set in motion that sought to resuscitate the Brahmanic way of life and thought by reorganizing, systematizing, simplifying, and popularizing it. The literary monuments of this movement were generally clothed in a practical literary form, namely, the sūtra s, or aphorisms, that were defined as being at once brief but unambiguous and to the point. By their very nature, the Upaniadic teachings, which were often sheer flashes of spiritual radiance rather than coherent philosophical formulations, were characterized by inherent ambiguities, inconsistencies, and contradictions. In order that they should prove reasonably meaningful, it was necessary to systematize and, more particularly, to harmonize them. This is exactly what the Brahma Sūtra (also called Vedānta Sūtra or Uttara-mīmā Sūtra ) of Bādarāyaa (third to second century bce) attempted to do.

Apparently, the Brahma Sūtra was not the only work of this kind, for Bādarāyaa mentions several predecessors, as, for example, Ātreya, Āśmarathya, Kāśaktsna, and Jaimini. Little is known about the writings of these teachers except for Jaimini, who is believed to have been the author of the Pūrva-mimāsa Sūtra. The literary form of the Brahma Sūtra no doubt eminently suited its original purpose; in the course of time, however, it inevitably rendered the sūtras multivocal. By themselves they could hardly be made to yield any cogent philosophical teaching. Yet it seems that the Brahma Sūtra favors a kind of bhedābheda, or doctrine of distinction-cum -nondistinction. The world is represented as a transformation of the potency of God, God himself remaining unaffected and transcendent in the process. Hardly any of Bādarāyaa's sūtra s can be shown to be unequivocally nondualistic in purport. It also seems that the Brahma Sūtra is specifically disposed against Sākhya dualism and Mīmāsā ritualism. But after all, the Vedānta of the Brahma Sūtra is what the different commentators have chosen to derive from them. Indeed, each commentator exploits Bādarāyaa's work to develop his own peculiar thesis with a relentless vertical consistency regardless of the consequences such a procedure may have on collateral issues.


The earliest complete extant commentary on the Brahma Sūtra is that of Śakara (788820 ce). But in his thinking Śakara is more vitally influenced by Gauapāda (fifth to sixth century) than by Bādarāyaa. It is true that the doctrine of bhedābheda and, to a certain extent, the Yoga of Patañjali provide the technical framework for Śakara's philosophy, but it is the uncompromising nondualism reclaimed by Gauapāda from the Upaniads that Śakara strongly vindicates, though he never goes so far in the direction of phenomenalism as does Gauapāda.

Gauapāda is traditionally believed to have been the teacher of Śakara's teacher Govinda, although there is clear evidence that he must have lived at least three centuries before Śakara. True to the usual practice of Hindu thinkers, Gauapāda has set forth his philosophy in his commentary, in the form of kārikā s or memorial verses. The Gauapādakārikā constitutes the earliest treatise on absolute nondualism (kevala advaita ). The very names of the four books that make up the worknamely, Āgama (Scripture), Vaitathya (Unreality of the World Experience), Advaita (Nondualism), and Alātaśānti (Extinction of the Revolving Firebrand)bring out the entire teaching of Gauapāda in a nutshell. The first book the Gauapādakārikā, which alone is directly related to the Māūkya Upaniad, deals with the self in its four states: wakefulness, dream, deep sleep, and the "fourth" state (turīya ), identified with moka. In the second book, Gauapāda for the first time asserts that the world does not exist in reality, but that "the Self (ātman ) apparently creates the self by the self" through its own māyā and cognizes various things (Gauapādakārikā 2.12). In other words, the world subsists in ātman through māyā. The third book teaches that duality does not exist in reality. Just as space (ākāśa ), which is without duality, is manifested as portions of space, such as the space enclosed in a pot (ghaākāśa ), so too is the Self manifested as jīva s. Similarly, just as when the pot is destroyed the space that it had enclosed merges into ākāśa, so too do jīva s merge into the Self. In reality no jīva is ever born. The fourth book speaks of the two standpointssavti, or the practical standpoint, and paramārtha, or the highest standpointand of the three stages in understanding, namely, laukika ("ordinary"), in which both objects and a subject are cognized as real; śuddha laukika ("purified ordinary"), in which perceiving itself, but not the objects of perception, is cognized as real; and lokottara ("supramundane") in which neither objects nor perceiving is cognized. This section emphasizes that consciousness (vijñāna ) alone is real, though it may appear in various guises as objects with beginnings and ends, movements, and so on. It is analogous to a revolving firebrand that appears as a fiery hoop; in the same way vijñāna, when it flickers, appears as both perceiver and perceived.

There can be hardly any doubt about the strong Buddhist influence on Gauapāda's thought. The Buddhist terminology used in books two to four is quite unmistakable. One may leave aside such questions as whether Gauapāda himself was a Buddhist, or whether the authorship of all four books belongs to him, yet the Gauapādakārikā creates an irresistible impression that the Buddhist Śūnyavāda and the Vijñānavāda schools present philosophical positions that are in no small measure consistent with those presented by the major classical Upaniads.


Śakara is by far the most outstanding and the most widely known exponent of Vedānta, particularly of the doctrine of absolute nonduality (Kevala Advaita). Many works pass as having been written by him, but among the philosophical works that can be ascribed to him with reasonable certainty are the commentaries on nine Upaniads; the commentaries on the Brahma Sūtra, the Bhagavadgītā, the Gauapādakārikā, the Yogasūtra-bhāya, and the Adhyāt-mapaala of the Āpastamba Dharmasūtra; and the Upadeśasahāśrī (with its nineteen verse tracts and three prose tracts). Some scholars have suggested that Śakara was originally an adherent of Pātañjala Yoga and only later became an Advaitin. His background of theism and a kind of doctrine of distinction-cum -nondistinction, though not directly discernible, may also be validly assumed. But it is clearly Gauapāda who influenced Śakara's teachings the most. Many of Śakara's doctrines, illustrations, and arguments are clearly anticipated by Gauapāda, though in rather extreme forms. Indeed, in his teachings Śakara may be said to have represented Guadapada's philosophy without its overtones of Buddhist Vijñānavāda and Śūnyavāda.

Śakara's philosophy, like most Indian philosophy, is oriented toward the one practical aim of moka, which implies liberation from suffering and regaining of the original state of bliss. It is based on śruti (scripture), especially the Upaniads, rather than on tarka (logical reasoning), which according to Śakara belongs to the realm of avidyā. Śakara takes for granted the validity of the Upaniads as an embodiment of the highest truth, and uses logic either to support his interpretation of the Upaniads or to refute other systems of thought. In his commentary on the Brahma Sūtra he seeks to harmonize the apparently contradictory teachings of the Upaniads through the assumption of two points of view, the ultimate (pāramārthika ) and the contingent (vyāvahārika ). He has obviously inherited this device of argumentation from Gauapāda. Indeed, it is in the many portions of his commentary that do not relate directly to the text of the Sūtra (that is, in the utsūtra discussions) that one gets glimpses of Śakara's original philosophical contribution.

The main plank of Śakara's philosophy is the belief in the unity of all being and the denial of the reality of the many particular entities in the universe. Reality is that which is one without a second, which is not determined by anything else, which is not sublated at any point of time, which transcends all distinctions, to which the familiar categories of thought are inapplicable, and which can be only intuitively realized. Such is brahman of Śakara's Advaita. Śakara's most distinctive contribution is the philosophical and dialectical development of the concept of brahman as without qualities (nirgua ). Nirgua brahman is not to be understood as "void" or "blank"; it only signifies that nothing that the mind can think of can be attributed to it. Sat (pure, unqualified being), cit (pure consciousness), and ānanda (pure bliss), which are often affirmed of brahman, are not qualifying attributes of brahman but rather together constitute the essential nature of brahman.

Śakara's main problem is how to reconcile the Upaniadic accounts of creation and the Upaniadic denial of plurality. He resolves it by pointing out that the world belongs to a level of being that is different from that of reality, namely, the level of appearance. The world (jagat ) may be regarded as the imaginary translation of brahman which is the only reality in the ultimate senseto the space-time plane. The world is grounded in brahman as the illusory appearance of a serpent is grounded in a rope. The causal relationship between brahman and jagat is of the nature of vivarta ("manifestation, appearance"), which is to be clearly distinguished from pariāma ("evolution, transformation"). The ultimate reality that is one does not become many; it can only appear as many. Jagat is thus not absolutely real, for the experience of the world with its diversity of particular phenomena is sublated by realization of the one ultimate reality; but it is also not absolutely unreal, for until the world appearance is sublated by true knowledge it does possess empirical viability. Śakara propounds a kind of phenomenalism without any suggestion of either nihilism or subjective idealism.

The world appearance, according to Śakara's absolute nondualism, is the result of avidyā ("nescience"), which is a radical constitutive adjunct of the embodied self (jīva ). Avidyā not only conceals (avaraa ) the true nature of brahman but it also distorts (vikepa ) it, so that brahman, for the time being, appears as the phenomenal world. The oneness of brahman experience is made to give way to the multiple experience of the world of names and forms. Viewed from yet another angle, the world is described as the result of māyā. If avidyā represents the weakness of jīva, māyā represents the potency imagined of brahman for cosmological purpose. It is by means of māyā that brahman, or rather the empirically posited creative aspect of brahman that is referred to as sagua brahman (God), produces the illusion of the world. It is emphasized, however, that māyā does not constitute a duality with brahman, that it does not affect brahman, and that it is not a permanent character of brahman, for when, as the result of true knowledge, the world appearance vanishes, māyā also vanishes and only pure nirgua brahman remains as the ultimate reality. In a sense, māyā and avidyā may be regarded as the two sides of the same coin.

The "why" of avidyā is, however, beyond comprehension. One, indeed, finds oneself in avidyā. For jīva is the Self (ātman ), who, under the influence of avidyā, which is beginningless, has forgotten his essential identity with the one ultimate reality, namely, brahman. Like the world, jīva also is empirically real albeit transcendentally unreal; but whereas with the dawn of true knowledge the world completely vanishes, jīva sheds its body and other appurtenances occasioned by avidyā and regains its essential nature, namely, identity with brahman.

Śakara has not developed any significant epistemology. Nor has he specifically discussed any ethical issues. He seems to take the observance of dharma in the phenomenal world for granted. For him the four prerequisites for brahman realization are discrimination between the eternal and the temporal, renunciation of nonspiritual desires, moral equipment, consisting of tranquility, self-control, and so forth, and an intense longing for moka. Śakara's personality is, in many respects, paradoxical. While strongly advocating the doctrine of Kevala Advaita, he is believed to have composed some very beautiful and moving hymns; while sponsoring a life of complete renunciation, he is himself known to have traveled almost the whole length and breadth of India as an active religious missionary with a view to founding mahas (monasteries) for the propagation of his teachings.

Post-Śakara Teachers of Kevala Advaita

The school of Śakara's Kevala Advaita can boast of a long line of teachers and pupils who through their writings have brought tremendous popularity to that school. Some of them have reinforced Śakara's teachings with keen dialectic, some others have elaborated certain specific aspects of those teachings, while still others have presented those teachings in the form of more practical compendia. Again, some of Śakara's followers have given a significant twist to the original doctrines of the great master and are, therefore, credited with having founded more or less independent subschools of Advaita.

Maana Miśra was a contemporary, perhaps a senior contemporary, of Śakara. He was originally a Mīmāsaka and had written several treatises on Mīmāsā. But later he became an Advaitin. His Brahmasiddhi shows that he is directly influenced by Śakara's philosophy. Indeed, there is a strong traditionwhich is, however, equally strongly contestedthat identifies Maana Miśra with Śakara's pupil Sureśvara. Maana Miśra emphasizes that it is the jīva s who by their own individual avidyā create for themselves the world appearance on the changeless brahman; he discountenances the theory that the world originates from the māyā of brahman. Tradition is unanimous in holding that Sureśvara was a direct pupil of Śakara. Sureśvara's vārttika on Śakara's commentary on the Bhadārayaka Upaniad is one of the longest philosophical treatises extant in Sanskrit. Its introductory part, called Sabandha-vārttika, deals with the relationship between the two sections of the Veda, the ritualistic and the spiritualistic. Sureśvara is also the author of the vārttika on Śakara's commentary on the Taittirīya Upaniad and of an independent Vedantic treatise called Naikarmyasiddhi. Some of the important points made by Sureśvara are that ritual action is in no way helpful to attainment of moka; that māyā is only an aperture (dvāra ) through which the one brahman appears as many; that avidyā is based not upon jīva s but upon pure cit itself; and that there is no reason to characterize the world as unreal before realization of the oneness of ātman.

Padmapāda is believed to have been the first pupil of Śakara, and was, according to a tradition, nominated by the master as the first pontiff of the maha at Puri. His only available work, though called Pañcapādikā ("gloss [or ikā ] on five quarters"), actually consists only of the ikā on Śakara's commentary on the first four sūtra s of the Brahmasūtras. Padmapāda invests māyā with a sort of substantiality and also assigns to it cognitive as well as vibratory activity. Brahman in association with māyā as characterized by this twofold activity is, according to Padmapāda, the root cause of jagat, while avidyā manifests itself in jīva.

It is, however, Vācaspati (fl. 841), author of the Bhāmatī, a commentary on Śakara's commentary on the Brahmasūtras, who may be said to have founded an independent subschool of Śakara's Vedānta. Vācaspati has sought to merge the teachings of Śakara and Maana Miśra into one system. He propounds the view that avidyā has brahman as its object (viaya ) and jīva as its support (āśraya ). The Sakepaśārīraka of Sarvajñātmamuni (tenth century), a pupil of Sureśvara, is a popular treatise in verse on the main teachings of Śakara. Sarvajñātman asserts that brahman is the ultimate cause of everything through the instrumentality of avidyā. Like the Bhāmatī subschool of Advaita, Prākaśātman (fl. 1200) inaugurated another independent subschoolthe Vivaraa subschoolthrough his Vivaraa (exposition) of Padmapāda's Pañcapādikā. Prākaśātman endorses the view of Sarvajñātman that brahman is both the support and the object of avidyā. While in respect of jīva the Bhāmatī subschool puts forth the doctrine of limitation (avaccheda ), the Vivaraa subschool puts forth the doctrine of reflection (pratibimba ). The Khaanakhaakhādya of Śrīhara (fl. 1190) is a Vedantic dialectic against Nyāya, while the Vedāntaparibhāā of Dharmarājādhvarīinda (sixteenth century) deals with, among other things, the epistemology of Vedānta. Among other writers belonging to the school of Śakara are Vidyāranya (fourteenth century), author of the famous Pañcadaśī; Prakāśānananda (sixteenth century), who wrote the Vedāntasiddhantamuktāvalī; Mad-husūdana Sarasvatī (sixteenth century), author of the Advaitasiddhi and the Siddhāntabindu; Appayya Dīkita (sixteenth century), who wrote the Siddhantalesamgraha and the Parimala, a commentary on the Kalpataru of Amalānanda (thirteenth century); and Sadānanda Vyāsa (seventeenth century), who commented on the Advaitasiddhi of Madhusūdana Sarasvatī and also wrote a handy compendium called Vedāntasāra.


Although there is generally evident a tendency to equate Vedānta with Śakara's Kevala Advaita, one cannot afford to ignore the other schools of Vedānta that have been substantially influential. The doctrine of śabdādvaita, a monistic ontology presenting language as the basis of reality, was propounded by Bharthari (d. 651) in his Vākyapadīya; this doctrine cannot be said to belong to Vedānta proper, since it is not derived from any of the three prasthāna s. Still, according to Bharthari the ideas that the ultimate reality, brahman, which is without beginning and end, is of the nature of the "word" and that the world proceeds from it can be traced back to the revelation of the Word par excellence, the Veda itself. This ultimate reality is one, but because of its many powers it manifests itself as many in the form of experiencer, the object of experience, and experience itself (the purpose of experience also being sometimes mentioned). This view of Bharthari may be regarded as a precursor of Śakara's theory of vivarta. The most important of the powers of brahman, according to Bharthari, is time (kāla ). The different kinds of actions and changes that bring about multiplicity in being all depend upon kāla. Bharthari, however, adds that time itself is the first result of avidyā. In the state of true knowledge, there is no place for time.


The proper post-Śakara Vedānta begins with Bhāskara (fl. 850). Unlike the other post-Śakara schools of Vedānta, Bhāskara's Vedānta does not seem to have gained wide currency, presumably because it was not linked up with any theistic sect. From his commentary on the Brahma Sūtra it becomes clear that Bhāskara knew Śakara's commentary, for he follows Śakara's arguments for refutation point by point. It further becomes clear that, for much of their interpretation, both Śakara and Bhāskara must have drawn on a common traditional source. According to Bhāskara, brahman has a dual form: brahman as pure being and intelligence, formless, the causal principle, which is the object of one's highest knowledge; and brahman as the manifested effect or the world. Thus brahman represents unity (abheda ) as well as distinction (bheda ), both of which are real. Jīva is brahman characterized by the limitations of the mind substance. Thus, unlike the material world, jīva is not the effect of brahman. Bhāskara is at one with most of the post-Śakara schools of Vedānta in rejecting outright Śakara's view of the world appearance. Indeed, such rejection was the main obsession of those schools.


To Rāmānuja (10171137) belongs the credit for successfully attempting to coordinate personal theism with absolutistic philosophy. Indeed, Rāmānuja may be said to have secured for Vaiavism the sanction of the Upaniads. In this, of course, he was heir to a fairly distinguished tradition of teachers such as Nāthamuni (fl. 950) and Yāmunācārya (fl. 1000), who is believed to have been Rāmānuja's teacher's teacher. Among the followers of Rāmānuja are Sudarśana Sūri (fl. 1300), Vekatanātha, more popularly known as Vedāntadeśika (fl. 1350), and Śrīnivāsācārya (fl. 1700). Rāmānuja's commentaries on two of the three prasthāna s, namely, the Brahma Sūtra (called Śrībhāya ) and the Bhagavadgītā, have been preserved. Rāmānuja is also the author of an independent philosophical treatise called Vedārthasagraha. According to Rāmānuja, God, who possesses supremely good qualities, is the only absolute reality and therefore the only object worthy of love and devotion. Matter (acit ) and souls (cit ), which are equally ultimate and real, are the qualities (viśeaa s) of God, but, as qualities, they are entirely dependent on God in the same way as the body is dependent on the soul. They are directed and sustained by God and exist entirely for and within him. Rāmānuja's doctrine is therefore known as Viśia Advaita or the doctrine of one God qualified by cit (souls) and acit (matter). These three factors (tattva-traya ) form a complex (viśia ) organic unity (advaita ). The omnipotent God creates the world of material objects out of himself, that is, out of acit (which is eternal in him), by an act of will. Rāmānuja emphasizes that creation is a fact, a real act of God. What the Upaniads deny is the independent existence of material objects and not their existence as such. Jīva is made up of the human body (which is related to acit ) and the soul (which is related to cit ), which become associated with each other on account of karman. Souls are eternal and atomic and are conscious and self-luminous by their very nature. The liberated soul, which is completely dissociated from the body, becomes similar to, but not identical with, God.

In Rāmānuja's theory, God can be known only through scripture; besides the Veda, Rāmānuja recognizes the Pañcarātra Āgama also as revealed. For him, religious acts comprehend both Vedic ritual and the practices (kriyāyoga ) prescribed by the Āgama. Rāmānuja recommends to all persons, irrespective of caste, rank, or sex, complete self-surrender to God (prapatti or śaraāgati ) as the most efficacious means of attaining the summum bonum.


The philosophy of Nimbārka (fl. mid-fourteenth century?) is generally known as Svābhāvika Bhedābheda or Dvaitādvaita. It is set forth briefly, precisely, and without much polemic or digression in his commentary on the Brahma Sūtra, called Vedāntapārijātasaurabha, and which is elaborated in such works as the Vedāntakaustaubha of Śrīnivāsa (who is believed to have been a direct pupil of Nimbārka), the Vedāntaratnamañjūa of Puruottama (a pupil of Śrīnivāsa), and the Vedāntakaustubhaprabhā of Keśava Kāśmīrin (fourteenth century). Presumably influenced by Rāmānuja, Nimbārka assumes the ultimate reality of the three entities, namely, Paramātman or Puruottama (God), Jīva, and Jagat. He does not accept avidyā as a cosmic principle producing the world appearance. Rather, according to him, God actually transforms himself into the world of material objects and individual souls, but does not lose himself in these. He is simultaneously one with (abheda ) and distinct from (bheda ) the world of jīva s and matter. This is so, not because of any imposition or supposition (upādhi ), but because of the specific peculiarity of God's spiritual nature (svabhāva ). God alone has independent existence, while individual souls and matter, which are but derivative parts of God, are entirely dependent on and controlled by him. Liberation in Nimbārka's theory implies realization of and participation in the true nature of Lord Śrī Ka (who is the ultimate brahman ) and is possible only through Ka's grace.


Tradition speaks of four main schools of what may be called Vaiava Vedānta, namely, the Śrī school of Rāmānuja, the Sanaka school of Nimbārka, the Brahma school of Madhva, and the Rudra school of Viusvāmin, which last is more commonly associated with its later exponent Vallabha (14791531). Many works, large and small, are ascribed to Vallabha, the most important among them being the Aubhāya, a commentary on the Brahma Sūtra (up to 3.2.34); the Tattvārthadīpanibandha, an independent philosophical treatise; and the Subodhini, a commentary on a major part of the Bhāgavata. Vallabha's son Vihalanātha (15161584) completed the unfinished Aubhāya and also composed independent works such as the Vidvanmaana and the Śrgārarasamaana. The Śuddhādvaitamartaa by Giridhara (15411621) and the Prameyaranārava by Bālaka Dīkita (seventeenth century) are other notable works of the Rudra school. Śuddha advaita ("pure nondualism") and puimārga are the two fundamental tenets of Vallabha's Vedānta. Śuddha advaita implies that the one brahman, free from and untouched by māyā, is the cause of the individual souls and the world of material objects. Jīva s and the material world are, in reality, brahman, for they represent but partial manifestations of the essential attributes of brahman. Brahman (God) pervades the whole world. Vallabha's doctrine is therefore also known as brahmavāda. While explaining the relation between brahman and the world, Vallabha propounds aviktapariamavāda, the theory that the world is a transformation of brahman, which latter itself, however, remains unchanged. It is like gold, which always remains itself no matter how it is formed into various ornaments or objects. God manifests his qualities of sat and cit in the form of jīva s, but the quality of bliss (ānanda ) remains unmanifested. Vallabha teaches that it is through pui (literally, "nourishment, spiritual nourishment"), or the special grace of God, that jīva s attain goloka ("the world of cows"), the world of bliss, and participate in the eternal sport presided over by Lord Śrī Ka.


Among the Vedāntins, Madhva (12381317) is reputed to be a confirmed dualist (dvaitin ). One wonders, however, whether the doctrine that Madhva advocates in his commentaries on the three prasthāna s and in his other worksa doctrine endorsed by other teachers of his school, such as Jayatīrtha (fourteenth century) and Vyāsarāya (14781539)can be designated strictly speaking as dualism in the sense in which the Sākhya doctrine is designated as dualism. Madhva no doubt speaks of two mutually irreducible principles as constituting reality, but he regards only one of them, namely, God, as the one infinite independent principle, whereas the finite reality comprising matter, individual souls, and other entities is regarded as dependent. He emphasizes that Lord Śrī Hari, who is omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, and without beginning and end, is the highest independent reality. The ungodly traits that are sometimes imputed to his character in descriptions of his various incarnations are not native to him but are intended to delude the demons and similar evil beings. The material world is essentially real, for whatever is created by God by veridical volition cannot be unreal. Furthermore, on the strength of the evidence of direct perception, inference, and scripture (which Madhva considers to be the only valid sources of knowledge) it can be established that the distinction between God and jīva is real and beginningless. Indeed, Madhva asserts the verity of the fivefold distinction, namely, the distinction between God and jīva s, the distinction between God and insentient objects, the mutual distinction among jīva s, the distinction between jīva s and insentient objects, and the mutual distinction among insentient objects. Jīva s, which are infinite in number, are subject and subservient to God. There is a gradation of high and low among them in accordance with their karman, and this gradation persists even in the state of emancipation. Moka, according to Madhva, implies the unblemished blissful experience of one's pure intrinsic nature as a servant of Lord Śrī Ka, and devotion to him is the chief means of attaining moka.

See Also

Avidyā; Bādarāyaa; Brahman; Gauapāda; Madhva; Māyā; Mīmāsā; Moka; Nimbārka; Rāmānuja; Śakara; Sūtra Literature; Upaniads.


Agrawal, Madan Mohan. The Philosophy of Nimbārka. Agra, 1977.

Dasgupta, Surendranath. A History of Indian Philosophy. 3 vols. London, 19221940.

Deutsch, Eliot. Advaita Vedānta: A Philosophical Reconstruction. Honolulu, 1969.

Hacker, Paul. Untersuchungen über Texte des frühen Advaitavāda, vol. 1, Die Schüler Śakaras. Wiesbaden, 1953.

Hacker, Paul. "Śakara der Yogin and Śakara der Advaitin. Einige Beobachtungen." In Festschrift für Erich Fraunallner, special issue of Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Süd- und Ostasiens 12/13 (19681969): 119148.

Hacker, Paul. "Śakārācarya and Śakarabhagavatpāda: Preliminary Remarks Concerning the Authorship Problem." In Kleine Schriften, edited by Lambert Schmithausen, pp. 4158. Wiesbaden, 1978.

Hiriyanna, Mysore. Outlines of Indian Philosophy. New York, 1932.

Sharma, B. N. K. A History of the Dvaita School of Vedānta and Its Literature. 2 vols. 2d rev. ed. Bombay, 1981.

New Sources

Comans, Michael. The Method of Early Advaita Vedanta: A Study of Gaudapada, Sankara, Suresvara, and Padmapada. Delhi, 2000.

Sharma, Arvind. The Rope and the Snake: A Metaphorical Exploration of Advaita Vedanta. New Delhi, 1997.

Tagare, Ganesh Vasudeo. The Veda and Vedanta. Delhi, 1996.

R. N. Dandekar (1987)

Revised Bibliography


views updated


Vedanta is the highest teaching of the Vedas, (veda means knowledge), the ancient Sanskrit scriptures of India. There are four Vedas: the Rig-Veda, the Yajur-Veda, the Sama-Veda, and the Artharva-Veda, which are comprised of hymns, ritual texts, and philosophical treaties that are regarded as divine revelation. Vedanta is considered one of the six darshanas (viewpoints) of orthodox Hinduism. However, it is not simply a formal instruction but a revelatory experience of transcendental consciousness.

In 1893, Swami Vivekananda appeared "like an Eastern comet in the Western spiritual sky" and made a startling appearance at the Parliament of Religions at the Chicago World's Fair. With him, he brought news of yoga and Vedanta; since then, yoga has taken solid root in the Western soil, with an estimated 2 million participants outside India. Vedanta, on the other hand, has remained relatively unknown.

The Vedas, completed between 1500-500 B.C.E, were originally an oral tradition, later codified in scriptures called the Upanishads (meaning nearness to wisdom). Of the 108 Upanishads, created between 900-500 B.C.E., some ten out of twelve books are regarded as the principle ones. The Vedanta, like the New Testament of the Bible, not only serves as the end of the Upanishads but the culmination of the scriptures.

Hindu scriptures differ from the sacred writings of other religions as they go beyond faith in particular deities (regarded as legal fictions, useful only at certain stages in life) to awareness of an Absolute, beyond time, space and causality. It is said the Vedanta's two main themes are humanity's true nature as divine, and this divinity as the aim of human life. The ideas of the Vedanta also introduce and reflect the traditional yogic paths.

There are three perspectives of Vedanta: One is dualistic (dvaita ), the second is nondualistic (advaita ), while the third is qualified nondualistic (vishishtadvaita ). The advaita perspective proclaims there are no individual souls, but all are unified. It is called nondualistic because "it acknowledge[s] only one Spirit, a single underlying reality beyond which nothing else could possibly exist."


Advaita Vedanta. March 1, 2000.

Introduction to Vedanta. March 30, 2000.

Johnsen, Linda. "Tantra & Classical Yoga." Yoga International (September 1997): 22-29.

Nikhilananda, Swami. The Upanishads. 4 vols. London: Phoenix House, 1951-59; New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1975-1979.

Torwesten, Hans. Vedanta: Heart of Hinduism. New York: Grove Weidenfield, 1985.


views updated


Meaning literally the "end" of the Vedas. The term originally applied to the Upanishads, the philosophical commentaries that come at the end of the Vedas, but later extended to include all philosophical systems based on the Vedas. The "triple foundation" of the Vedānta is the Upanishads, the Brahma-sūtras of Bādarāyana, written early in the Christian Era and consisting of short aphorisms summarizing the doctrine of the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gītā. The three principal systems of the Vedānta are the nondualism (advaita) of Śankara (8th century), the qualified nondualism (vishitadvaita ) of Rāmānuja (11th12th century), and the dualism (dvaita ) of Madhva (13th century). Though based on revelation (ruti), they are strictly philosophical in their method and form one of the greatest metaphysical traditions in history.

See Also: indian philosophy; hinduism; and their bibliographies.

[b. griffiths]


views updated

Vedānta (Skt., ‘Veda’ + ‘end’). The end, i.e. culmination, of the Vedas, especially as contained in the last section of the Veda, the Upaniṣads. However, Vedānta understood as the culmination of the Vedas in ordered reflection (i.e. as a philosophical and religious tradition) rests also on the Bhagavad-gītā and on the Brahma Sūtra of Bādarāyaṇa (also known as Vedānta Sūtra) which attempted to bring order and harmony to the scattered reflections in the Upaniṣads on the nature of Brahman and the relation of Brahman to the created order, in particular the continuing presence of Brahman within it as ātman. These three works became the basis of the philosophy of Vedānta, and became the subject of commentaries leading to the diverse interpretations of Vedānta, of e.g. Śaṅkara, Rāmānuja, and Madhva. Cf. also Uttara-mīmāṃsā.


views updated

Vedanta (Sanskrit, ‘conclusion of the Vedas’) Best known and most popular form of Indian philosophy; it forms the foundation for most modern schools of thought in Hinduism. One of the most influential Vedanta schools was that expounded by the 7th–8th-century philosopher Sankara. This school holds that the natural world is an illusion. There is only one self, Brahman-Atman; ignorance of the oneness of the self with Brahman is the cause of rebirth. The system includes a belief in the transmigration of souls and the desirability of release from the cycle of rebirth. See also Upanishads


views updated

Ve·dan·ta / vāˈdäntə; və-/ • n. a Hindu philosophy based on the doctrine of the Upanishads, esp. in its monistic form.DERIVATIVES: Ve·dan·tic / -tik/ adj.Ve·dan·tist / -tist/ n.


views updated

Vedanta a Hindu philosophy based on the doctrine of the Upanishads, especially in its monistic form.